Make Hay While the Sun Shines

11 November 2020
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Several years ago, my husband and I began to co-create a fantasy. It started one evening in May of 2015, when we were camping in Joshua Tree National Park. We were not yet halfway through a six-week road trip through the Western United States with our son, who was asleep in our tiny vintage camper trailer as we sat at the campfire among the Flintstonesque rock formations.

In this first column of many, I tell the tale of how this fantasy led to a wholly unexpected reality. It’s the tale of a surprise hay farm, a flirtation with flax growing, and a promise of many adventures in natural dyeing, foraging, and learning.

Photo from slightly above of a valley running diagonally between two sizeable, treed hills.

Several years ago, my husband and I began to co-create a fantasy. It started one evening in May of 2015, when we were camping in Joshua Tree National Park. We were not yet halfway through a six-week road trip through the Western United States with our son, who was asleep in our tiny vintage camper trailer as we sat at the campfire among the Flintstonesque rock formations.

Photo of a sunny day at Joshua Tree National Park, with light coloured bulders in the background and a light green-coloured 13-foot vintage camper trailer in the foreground.

We started talking about what it would be like to live in the wilderness. How much we would enjoy the quiet, and the different kinds of adventures we’d have from the ones we encounter in our usual urban life together.

Over time, this fantasy grew into decision-making. If we were to find a little patch of land somewhere, where would we want it to be?

We live in Vancouver. It’s the third largest city in Canada, but to me it’s always seemed almost quaint. I was born in Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A., and lived there in the late 1970s and early ’80s, until my family moved a few hours upstate in 1986, when I was ten years old.

I was one of those urban kids who thought nature was my uncle’s backyard in the suburbs. The first time I ever stepped foot in a forest was the summer I turned nine.

For reasons I’ve never managed to sort out, I grew up dreaming of the West Coast. In 2002 I married my husband, and shortly thereafter we moved to his hometown of Vancouver. Walking in the woods became a part of my weekly, if not daily, routine. Exploring the many varied landscapes of British Columbia became a source of adventure for our family.

As we fine-tuned our cabin fantasy, we decided for sure we’d want it to be on the mainland, though we do love visiting the Gulf Islands off the coast; we didn’t want to be beholden to a ferry schedule. We’d want it to be not too long a drive away, since our son is still in grade school and we’d want to be able to get there and back in a weekend without feeling tempted to leave one or another whining family member on the side of the road.

Eventually, we decided a town about four hours from our home would be ideal. A doable drive, and due to its location on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains, a drier, sunnier climate than we’re used to on the coast.

We started looking for small plots of land suitable to slowly building ourselves a cabin on over a few years.

One day in April, 2019, we met a realtor out there and started looking around. We figured it would be the first of many trips, and we intended to take as long as it would take to find a place we loved.

At no point in our years of fantasizing did we anticipate the reality we would end up choosing.

Just as we did not anticipate finding our dream on that very first trip to look.

The way it turned out, instead of spending a few months or years finding the perfect five- or ten-acre lot we’d slowly build into an oasis away from the city, we very impulsively, very dramatically, ended up buying an isolated 300-acre property comprising a seventy-acre hay farm in a valley between two wooded hills.

Photo from slightly above of a valley running diagonally between two sizeable, treed hills.
Photo of a rustic gravel driveway with tall grass on either side and tall trees in the middle and far distance.

I’ll confess something to you but you have to promise not to hold it against me.

Do you promise?

When the previous owner had taken us around the property, he’d made no mention whatsoever of hay.

The property listing had also made no mention of hay.

When my husband and I let our infatuation drive our decision-making, we did not know when we put an offer on the place that the green grassy valley we saw in early spring would, within weeks, be transformed into many dozens of acres of tall grass. Grass as tall as our son was.

It was only after we’d sorted out the details that our realtor mentioned that the seller had heard from neighbours down the road who expressed interest in speaking with us about the hay.

We had stumbled into owning a hay farm, and that was just one of many unexpected events to come.

Photo of a field of freshly cut hay. A large dog is on the left and a tractor with swather attachment is in the right mid-ground.

We did, indeed, speak with and eventually meet those neighbours. They are about the kindest folks around, and they are doing the actual hay farming.

An upside to this surprising situation is that I started to see this land as a farm rather than as a wilderness. Seeing it as a farm has led me to build many new fantasies for this place.

And that is what this column will be about. Over months and likely years, I’ll share with you the things I learn and try. I’ll show you the dye plants I’ve discovered at the place, and the yarns I’ve dyed with it. I’ll share my plans to try growing Japanese indigo on the farm, something I know almost nothing about. I’ll walk you through my exploration into the possibility of growing flax for linen (hint: it’s looking unlikely to succeed so far inland and at elevation, but I haven’t ruled out trying).

The hay itself has nothing to do with my work in fibre or my exploration of natural dyes and eco-friendly craft. But its presence in my life connects to all of that.

I now know that the expression – “make hay while the sun shines” – is based entirely in reality. Hay needs to be cut when it’s dry, and it needs to dry in the sun for two or three days after it’s cut, before it’s baled.

Over time, I hope these adventures will inspire you to seize opportunities to try new things in your craft practice, especially when it’s unexpected. To seize the sunny days, so to speak, and see if you might not make some hay yourself.

Copyright © Kim Werker except as indicated.

About Kim Werker

Kim Werker (she/her) is a co-founder and publisher at Digits & Threads and Nine Ten Publications. She has worked in the crafts industry in one way or another since 2004 as an editor, writer, instructor and speaker. She's authored six books about crochet and one about making ugly things on purpose as a creativity exercise. Kim lives in Vancouver, BC, with her husband and son, and their mutt who's named after a tree.

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